A typical day for Feanna Otta, mother of two and creator of children's clothing line Kait Emerson Designs, revolves first around her children and second around her business. Her now-flourishing brand began with simply making blankets for her babies.
"I'm a mom first," says the self-taught seamstress, who started her Huntington Beach-based business in 2005 when her daughter Kaitin Sofia was born. Having her son Shawn Emerson just 12 months later, ("bam, bam" as she describes it), Feanna's passion soon blossomed into business. After having her children and choosing to focus on motherhood, she turned a craft and hobby into a full-time occupation and is now is a regular presence at popular design shows like Unique LA. The name "Kait Emerson Designs" is a combination of her son and daughter's names.
Walking into this craftswoman's studio is like taking a breath in a meadow full of laughing children and fragrant flowers. Surrounded by colorful fabrics and bright patterns, Feanna works from the home she shares with her husband and children, directly across the street overlooking Hope View Elementary, where her children attend. There are indeed the sounds of children and birds chirping outside her sewing room window, and an assortment of family photos adds to the peace and simple joy of this one-woman shop. Her eye for beauty is apparent throughout her eye for detail, from her turquoise earrings to the fabrics on her shelf and playful polkadot pattern of the floor.
After taking her kids to school, Feanna designs and sews for several hours during the day and often returns to work at night after her their afternoon and evening activities. "People think I'm a big company," Feanna tells me during a visit to her home studio. "They are surprised to learn that for the most part I do everything myself."
The 39-year-old entrepreneur behind Kait Emerson Designs began her journey into designing and making children's clothes by creating "fun blankets and dresses" when her daughter was born in 2005. "Before I knew it, I was making them special order for friends, family and then to the public," Feanna says. "Craigslist was the place to put stuff, and I've been on Etsy since the get-go." She created a website, made a name for herself and started getting contacted by photographers. Says, Feanna, "What sells my clothes is how [they're] styled."
But it wasn't smooth sailing from the start. "My first project was a disaster," she recalls of the first sundress she attempted to make for her daughter. Without formal sewing training, except for one college class, Feanna had difficulty reading patterns. So she bought four books from Barnes & Noble and taught herself. She credits much of her business acumen to her experience in the corporate world, where she worked in insurance sales for 11 years. She definitely prefers her current line of work, noting, "It's so much easier to sell something that is pretty."
Among a backdrop of sewing scissors and a mannequin adorned in a toddler's sundress, the stylish entrepreneur recalls, "I was just always very crafty." An Orange County native, Feanna recalls always seeing her grandmother in the sewing room. "I have always loved doing things with my hands, like latch hook, drawing, coloring, and arts and crafts," she says, adding that she would often watch and learn from her grandmother.
Her feminine line of whimsical, cheerful kid and baby items are sold online through her website and Etsy, and a few unique pieces recently joined our Made In HB Marketplace. Kait Emerson Designs are also sold at several Southern California and Orange County boutiques, including Twig & Willow in Long Beach. Her global line is popular in Australia (maybe it's the similar weather, she says) and China, and she continues to sell her garments to a steady number of longtime clients—which originally started with just family and friends.
After experimenting with larger wholesale orders for some time and hiring an intern, Feanna trimmed down her orders and returned to working solo. "To cut and sew 100 pieces is a lot of work for one person," she explains, "So rather than go overboard, I've scaled back."
Says Feanna, "I'm very particular about quality." She uses a few favorite designers for fabrics and typically embellishes her pieces with a personal touch. "I love to mix and match different textures and colors and fun pieces, but it's still very functional for the kids." Her work, like the pictured Let's Play Knot Apron Top, features "grow-with-me" adjustable straps and hems that can be let out as the children grow.
Her clothes seem suited best for moments when children are adorned and parents adore them. Taking in all the color, liveliness, and playful exuberance of Feanna's signature fabrics—bright florals; delicate, complementing patterns; little details like buttons and ribbons—I grow nostalgic for a childhood trip I remember taking with my mother and little brothers in Laguna Beach when I was seven. My mom dressed me in a dusty rose linen Donna Karan sundress and had my brothers in coordinating outfits from Fresh Produce (a children's clothing boutique in Fashion Island). On the trails at Crystal Cove in the grass across from the beach, my photographer mother snapped pictures of my brothers and me on her camera while we played. I remember those brands because I recall thinking the clothes were special. That place seems much smaller and less wild and magical now, but I’ll remember the beauty and innocence of that simple summer day forever, along with the clothes.
Suffice it to say, Kait Emerson Designs reminds me of those fleeting, carefree, precious childhood moments. There's an element of quality and care in her line that you can't find in anything mass-produced, perhaps because you know she started making the clothes out of love for her very own children.